Anders Stabler, CPed, was seeking a down-to-earth job.
He had repaired electronic equipment on navy anti-submarine warplanes and had worked as a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines (TWA).
“After TWA furloughed me [in 2001 when American Airlines bought TWA], I had to sit down and think to myself, ‘Now, where am I going to find a job that is going to be here through thick and thin?’” he said.
He opted for pedorthics.
Change of career
Stabler is a staff pedorthist at Comfort Shoe Specialists, a pedorthics facility in his native St. Louis. He sold shoes after he graduated from high school and while he was at Central Missouri State University earning a degree in commercial art.
“I thought people were always going to have footwear needs and footwear issues,” Stabler explained. “So I went back into shoes and was hired here.”
Comfort Shoe Specialists is ABC-accredited. The owner, Edith James, is a board-certified pedorthist.
After about a year at the store, Stabler decided to become certified.
“I ended up getting one of the first complete scholarships to Enselow [Pedorthic Institute] in New York City,” he said.
Stabler was certified as a pedorthist in 2005.
Art and science
He divides his time between the sales floor and the in-store lab. Stabler says crafting orthotics is both art and science.
“Without the science you wouldn’t have the craft and without the craft you wouldn’t have the art. There is an aesthetic side to the foot, too. Every foot we cast is a form of sculpture. Every single foot is different.”
Stabler says his clientele is different, too.
“There is no typical client here. People come in with athletic injuries or ballet injuries. Often enough clients are baby boomers. They are becoming the majority.”
Most of the store’s regular clients expect service, he added.
“We live in a cyclical society. For a long time, people wanted their shoes fitted, then shoes became a self-service item. Now people want service again and they don’t care if they have to pay a little more. That’s why facilities like this are thriving.”
Future of the profession
Stabler is one of five pedorthists at Comfort Shoe Specialists, counting James. Stabler sees a bright future for the store and his profession, a future he believes will include more cross-credentialing between pedorthists and allied health professionals, notably orthotists.
“More and more pedorthists are going to get certified as orthotists, too,” he said. Stabler thinks dual, or even multiple, certification is “a natural progression” like taking a college-level art class before studying to be a pedorthist.
He is not joking.
“The foot is a three-dimensional object. The people that struggle with pedorthics are the ones that can’t visualize that the foot itself is a three dimensional object. A drawing class really would help.”
Illustrate and educate
He received plenty of drawing experience at his alma mater. He would like to use his commercial art background to illustrate an updated version of Introduction to Pedorthics, edited by pedorthics pioneer Dennis Janisse.
“My dream for a number of years has been to illustrate a new edition of the book,” Stabler said. “The drawings are a bit dated and it could use color for visual learners. If there is a new edition, I would love to be the illustrator.”
Meanwhile, the would-be illustrator is also a pedorthics educator. He teaches about the benefits of therapeutic shoes and orthotics at the fitting stool, sometimes to skeptical clients.
“For example, diabetics with neuropathy want their shoes really tight so they can better feel them on their feet,” Stabler said. “I explain to them they will need a wider shoe to accommodate the device we are going to put in the shoe. I ask them to trust me and my expertise and they will get used to how the new shoes feel.”
Stabler urges diabetes patients to routinely check their feet for problems, especially if they have neuropathy.
“I have seen people with a safety pin embedded in their orthotic and they don’t know how it got there.”
Another of our clients came in with a foot ulcer caused by a wheel off his grandson’s toy truck.
“He put it in grandpa’s shoe as a joke, not knowing he wouldn’t be able to feel it. It ate a hole in his foot, which eventually had to be amputated. So I stress to people with neuropathy that they must examine their feet, otherwise they could end up an amputee.”
Sometimes, he adds, patients with diabetes or other serious foot problems – especially elderly people – balk at therapeutic shoes. If a son or daughter brings them in, Stabler enlists the offspring as helpers if need be.
“They’ll say, ‘Mom or Dad, you need to wear this.’ Again, it’s cyclical. When they were children, their parents went with them to the shoe store to make sure their new shoes fit. Now the children are taking care of their parents.”
But compliance can be a problem, Stabler said.
“Occasionally, someone will come in bringing an elderly mother who is still wearing loafers and I fit her in appropriate footwear and ask, ‘Would you like to wear your new shoes home?’
“And she says, ‘No,’ and I put them back in the box. I know she probably isn’t going to wear them.”
Stabler said at Comfort Shoe Specialists, shoes do not go on anyone’s feet until each foot is carefully examined for problems and measured for size.
“When people come in and say, ‘I just want to buy a pair of shoes,’ you have to explain that this is an accredited facility and that we take what we do very seriously.
“We all wear lab coats. This isn’t an ordinary shoe store. Al Bundy didn’t wear a lab coat.”
Nor did Bundy, the hapless shoe clerk from the TV comedy show “Married with Children,” receive gifts from appreciative customers. Stabler does.
“I get cards – one from a little girl who drew dolphins on the envelope – candy, cookies and autographed books from authors,” he said. “It’s the little things that are priceless to me.”
Berry Craig is a correspondent for O&P Business News.